Look at me! Why are women obsessed with taking selfies?
Comments about women taking selfies have ranged from: “Trashy,” to “Pathetic,” to “If you want attention, call your mom”, “I cringe every time I see a girl taking a selfie”
Prolific selfie-takers, according to Psychology Today have been labelled variously as self-absorbed, possibly psychopathic, with a tendency to have less meaningful relationships. Taking selfiescan reveal unflattering things about our personalities and can apparently be more dangerous than swimming in shark-infested water with more deaths reported from taking selfies than shark attacks.
Fascination with faces
People tend to look down on people taking selfies. Even articles explaining how to take the perfect picture have a faintly apologetic tone, like the harm reduction leaflets which nurses give to heroin addicts.
It’s easy to understand why people hate selfies. Self-promotion and self-obsession is always irritating, and from Lutheran Germany to Stalinist Russia, female vanity has always been considered a dangerous thing. What’s more interesting is why women are so keen on taking them, in the face of so much disapproval. Read: Why risk losing a sale because of your image?
On Instagram, pictures with faces are 38% more likely to receive likes, and there’s something very satisfying about being told that someone ‘likes’ your face. But if all you want is external validation, you could also go for a blue background in your photo (gets 24% more likes on average), an image of something textured (79% more), or simply turn down the saturation (18% more). Or how about a picture of your cat?
Humans are fascinated by faces. Around 6 months old, most babies go through a “mirror stage”, when they have developed enough to look at their own reflection and become fascinated by anything shiny. In some ways, we never grow out of this. Stores often place mirrors near the entrance, because rushing shoppers slow down automatically when they catch sight of their own reflection. Even a photo of someone else’s face has a similar effect.
Girls are raised with conflicting messages about their own looks: It’s important to be beautiful, but it’s unladylike to stare at yourself in the mirror for hours. No wonder most women hate having their photo taken. When you take the picture yourself you can keep going until it’s perfect. Another reason why women like taking selfies.
The end result might look nothing like you – but so what?
People tend to see themselves as more attractive than they really are. When presented with a series of pictures which had been digitally manipulated to make them more or less attractive, people find it much easier to recognise the better-looking versions of themselves. (Touchingly, the same effect was found when people looked at photos of their friends, but not when seeing pictures of strangers)
By manipulating their image with filters and careful poses, all people are doing is making their photo match their self-image. In a way, it’s a pretty powerful thing: controlling the images of yourself that are put out into the world, making sure that the way you look aligns with how you want to be seen. For the first time since the days of professional portrait painters, women have full control over images of themselves.
Think about the recent Hollywood nude photo leaks; a big proportion of the stolen photos were selfies. Commentators were largely unsympathetic, suggesting that any successful woman should have known better than to take compromising photos of herself. Read: How to rebuild a damaged online reputation mid-career.
These are some of the most photographed women in the world; a fair number of them had already modelled for professional nude photographs. But they still want more pictures, images they can control, where they can choose their own poses and do their own editing. You can almost see it as subverting the male gaze. The photos might have been taken for a man, but they weren’t taken by a man. There is still some debate if taking a selfie is a feminist act.
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